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Ever since colonial-era homesteaders wove wattle garden structures from unbranched shoots of willow or hazel and set their peas to clamber over rows of tiny-twigged birch limbs, countless generations have used sticks to prop up their plants. Today, homeowners who want to combine beauty and utility can do the same. "Metal stakes and hoops may be practical," says Connecticut gardener Thyrza Whittemore, "but aesthetics are important, even in the vegetable garden." So she reaches for branches pruned in early spring—close at hand, easy to fashion to the right size, biodegradable, and free—to bring order to her beds. Read on to learn how she does it.
Step 1: Get prepped
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Step 2: Lay out the framework
Sort sticks by length; use the longest ones first. Cut lightweight twine into a bunch of 5- to 6-inch lengths and set aside. Push support sticks straight into the ground, 6 inches deep, at each end of the trellis and in the middle. Fasten twine to the supports at either end, just above the ground, as a guide for keeping a straight line. Then cut measuring sticks, one 5 inches for spacing, one 3 feet as a height check.
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Step 3: Set the first diagonals
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Step 4: Weave in more sticks, tie them where they cross
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Step 5: Trim the ends
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Step 6: Plant peas or other vining plants, and watch them climb
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Step 7: Beef up twig supports for peonies
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To keep the nodding heads of her 36- to 40-inch-tall 'Festia Maxima' peonies upright (inset, below), Thyrza surrounds their bed with 3-foot metal stakes, driving them into the ground about 2 feet apart when the plants are 1 foot tall. Then she uses the stakes to secure twine that she runs in a grid through the bed, just below the flower heads, hiding it in the foliage; she adds another grid when the plants are 2 feet tall. "Take into account the height of your peonies so that the stakes don't stick up above their heads like they're in a corral," she says. Apple-twig X's tied to the outside of the stakes put a pretty face on the grid.
Step 8: Reinforce framework for tomatoes
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